So the bin Laden raid leaves us with an empirical test case for a core counterinsurgency contention.
Proposed by Dave Kilcullen and others, counterinsurgency theorists argue that theirs is the truer path to robust counterterrorism, the pursuit of which is the only reason counterinsurgency is germane in the U.S. context. Counterterrorism requires intelligence on terrorists and their environs. Intelligence requires local knowledge. Local knowledge requires the protection of vulnerable populations from reprisal, plus some incentive -- money, justice, political access, whatever -- to make cooperation with the anti-insurgent faction sensible. If you don't provide those resources and meet people where they are, then your counterterrorism hunt is fruitless.
U.S. counterterrorism just succeeded, massively, in a place where we don't have a counterinsurgency campaign. But we clearly had sufficient local knowledge (read: informers and ground operatives) -- plus signals intelligence, plus persistant surveillance -- to meet our objective. If there was any counterinsurgency approach that backstopped that effort, then it was a Pakistani COIN, which is pretty poorly regarded; and in any event, it isn't focused outside the tribal areas, where it turns out bin Laden wasn't. Maybe Pak COIN in the tribal areas helped support the raid and we just don't know it. But the evidence of American counterinsurgency efforts supporting it is thin.
There is a lot we don't know about the bin Laden raid, so it's not really smart to draw firm conclusions. As a working hypothesis, it makes sense to ask whether a central contention of counterinsurgency doesn't apply. Maybe it applies in certain cases, as raids in Afghanistan are way up, although a debate is underway about whether those raids complement or conflict with the overall counterinsurgency effort. Perhaps the bin Laden raid is so singular as a national priority -- ten years and untold billions spent -- that Kilcullen's COIN-for-CT approach isn't necessary. (As Billy Beane famously said, "my stuff doesn't work in the playoffs.") Or maybe it needs to be adjusted -- or jettisoned.
Let's consider this, shall we?